The Queen of Clean: Vicki Winterton encourages organizing for progress, not perfection

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Vicki Winterton was a brand-new empty nester when advice from a guest star on “Oprah” hit home. “This career professional said, ‘Do something with your life that allows you to enjoy every day.’ When I thought about what I enjoy doing, I knew organizing was it, so I started my business,” Kathleen says. (Photo by Alisha Gallagher)

Vicki Winterton was a brand-new empty nester when advice from a guest star on “Oprah” hit home. “This career professional said, ‘Do something with your life that allows you to enjoy every day.’ When I thought about what I enjoy doing, I knew organizing was it, so I started my business,” Kathleen says. (Photo by Alisha Gallagher)

This is the first of a five-story series, “Empower Hour,” for Utah Valley Magazine.

The junk drawer, the hall closet, the entryway table that accidentally evolved into the burial ground for receipts, bills and permission slips — every home has “that” space. Though Vicki Winterton can’t Mary-Poppins-style snap her fingers and make the job a game, she gets pretty close.

Vicki chose a career in professional organization 10 years ago, after her youngest of three children graduated from high school and moved out. With more time on her hands, she got to work helping the exasperated homeowner clear the clutter and help the hurting heart.

“Often people call me when they’ve gone through a life change or catastrophe, like a job change, death in the family or divorce,” the Provo resident says. “They call when they’re fed up and are looking for a way to simplify.”

Perfection detection

Vicki grew up in an organized home, with a mother who taught her the peace of mind that comes with knowing that everything has a place. She passed the torch to Vicki, who showed a knack for tidiness in elementary school.

“As a young girl, when the first day of school was approaching, I would go through my closet and plan my outfits for the next few days,” Vicki says. “I believe I was born with a gift of organization.”

The blessing of organization can come with the curse of perfectionism, a path half of her clients travel. Vicki can recognize tendencies because she calls herself “a recovering perfectionist.”

While navigating a bumpy relationship with one of her daughters, Vicki was advised, “You can have a perfect daughter or you can have a daughter who loves you.” That gave Vicki a new perspective, in her relationships and her profession.

“It’s hard to be happy with what you have accomplished already if you want perfection,” Vicki says. “I tell my clients they need to be OK with great or excellent. We’re looking for progress, not perfection.”

“I tell my clients they need to be OK with great or excellent. We’re looking for progress, not perfection.” —Vicki Winterton

One box at a time

Vicki’s clients range from homeowners who want professional advice to the chronically disorganized — and she doesn’t feel the need to delve deeper than that.

“TLC once invited me onto an episode of ‘Hoarding: Buried Alive,’ but I declined because I would have had to wear a hazmat suit,” Vicki says. “I couldn’t do that.”

She does, however, help people with symptoms of mild hoarding. She connected with a woman in Utah Valley a few years ago who asked for help because she was in poor health. She told Vicki, “I don’t want to die and have people see the way I’ve lived in my home.”

Vicki worked with her continually for a year, containing and labeling items that were important to the client.

“It was hard for her to let things go, but her home went from having clutter underfoot in every room to being organized and contained,” Vicki says. “She passed away six months ago and I am grateful I got to help her.”

That’s why Vicki does what she does — to see improvement in the people she serves.

“I am a woman who loves getting up and going to work every day of her life,” Vicki says. “It’s spectacular to make a difference in the lives and brains of the people who live in every home I organize.”


An hour a day

Vicki says that in one hour, most people can take the first and hardest steps toward organizing spaces that drain our brains of the desire to declutter. Here Vicki spills the clean beans with three tips to organizing.

1. Assess the bothersome space

“What is working and what’s not working about this space? Create a plan of exactly what you want the space to look like. If you’re a visual learner, Google Images can help with that.”

2. Create a plan

   “Put your plan on paper. Ask yourself, ‘Am I willing to maintain this once it’s organized?’ Answer honestly, otherwise it might not stick.”

3. Tackle the process next time

   “Those first two steps will probably take an hour, so your next hour you can get to work.” While going through each item, Vicki recommends asking these three questions:

  • Do I use this often? Yes? Keep it.
  • No? Is it among the 50 percent of these items that I love? (e.g. I have 10 white t-shirts, I only need five. Is this one among the half I should keep?) No? Toss it. Yes? Keep it.
  • If I let this go, what’s the worst thing that can happen?

During each step of the organizing process, being realistic and understanding are key.

“You’re never going to have a perfectly organized space,” Vicki says. “But, once a space is organized with good systems in place, it’s easier to get back to that same level of organization with significantly less effort.

 Get tidying tips from Vicki Winterton here.

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Alisha swapped plains for peaks when she moved to Utah from her Kansas hometown. After graduating from BYU and traveling around China with her husband, Shane, they put down roots in Utah Valley, where Alisha first fell in love with yoga, learned to ski and discovered fry sauce. Alisha is an associate editor, writing for Utah Valley Magazine and UtahValley360.com. Follow her on Twitter @alishagallag.

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